[SW Colorado | July 2020 | By Kathryn R. Burke]
How does a crisis like Covid affect our local business owners? For some, it’s fear…fear of catching it, fear of not being able to survive it economically. For others, despite facing the related adversity, it’s a chance to exhibit fortitude and resilience. And for a special few—like Tammee Tuttle, owner of the True Grit Café in Ridgway—it’s an opportunity for creative solutions to put food on the table. Literally.
Tammee feeds people—with care and compassion and an understanding of how important food is to their physical and emotional well-being. In these complicated times, that’s huge.
A lot of thought went into how she revised her business plan to do that. Going beyond the take-out options offered by some local restaurants, Tammee quickly devised a way to support her staff and customers while implementing a safe and innovative way to help her community—all within government mandates. That plan had to be, and still is, fluid. It’s a project in progress; the situation changes daily due to new or revised regulations and ongoing community needs.
During the height of the shutdown, Tammee provided food—raw, ready-to-cook, and ready-to serve—to those who needed or wanted it. She also provided groceries for those who wanted to cook at home, taking orders for basics like meat, bread, and milk, and fulfilling them by using her own suppliers. When other items were needed beyond that scope, she shopped in nearby Montrose for people who couldn’t leave home.
Food is not only a necessity, it’s a comfort. When people are frightened, or hungry, or feeling emotionally threatened, food is a common remedy. Tammee fed them. She and her True Grit staff took orders by phone or e-mail. She advertised her familiar, comfort-food specials on social media—Facebook and Instagram—and provided it. Pictures of popular dishes were tempting, and ordering a cooked meal was a great way to alleviate food-related boredom. Let’s face it, day after day of cooking and eating at home gets a little old pretty quickly. Everybody missed “The Grit,” as locals call it. Tammee found a way to invite people to “dine in” without coming inside to do it. And with government approval, she was able to add cocktails, beer, and wine to go as well. A win-win for business and customers.
Now we have another set of new regulations. “Safe at Home” has been replaced with “Safer at Home,” and yet revised again on June 30th with the Safer at Home and in the Vast Great Outdoors Executive Order, which must also be approved by local ordinance. This permits restaurants to have limited inside seating (50 persons or 50% capacity) and—temporarily—use outdoor space within 1,000 feet of the premises to serve food and alcohol to seated customers. At this time, in Ouray County, masks are mandatory in all public places. In restaurants, masks must be worn coming in, going out, and moving about, but are not required at the table. (It’s hard to stick a fork or straw through a mask.) Fortunately, our governor exhibited some forbearance in allowing people to eat and drink without covering their faces. But even if he hadn’t, Tammee would have come up with a solution.
With the Grit’s post-Covid reopening, there are a few new changes. The sheer volume of curbside pickup, to-go orders hasn’t really slowed that much, but with dine-in service and the OK for residents to travel to grocery stores in Montrose, Tammee has discontinued grocery shopping. To comply with social distancing and since the weather is so accommodating, she’s added four 4-top tables along the boardwalk from the Grit down past Timbercreek Gallery (by agreement with its owner). Upstairs, in addition to interior, socially spaced dining, she has outside patio dining with a killer view. Hartwell Park is another added inducement to take-out (which can include cocktails). Many customers making curbside pickups elect to take their meals across the street to the town park, where it’s cool and shady and meets all those “outside is best” social distancing suggestions.
Wherever you choose to eat—inside, outside, or take-out—you’re in for a treat. The Grit, now open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m, offers “quality comfort food,” as Tammee describes the house favorites—like their signature mac and cheese, Friday night catfish with slaw and fries, and the “choose our meal” burger where you pick your protein and toppings. Customers may also order online from their website or Facebook page. The revised menu offers several new creative dishes, hand-crafted cocktails, and plenty of the popular old favorites, including the best chicken fried steak in Southwest Colorado! As for beef, in short supply in some area restaurants, that’s not a problem for Tammee. She and her husband own a ranch and have harvested 14 steers (plus 20 pigs), so they won’t run out.
Tammee cares deeply about her community, and she continues to find ways to support it. If you miss the Grit, or haven’t tried it yet, stop by to enjoy an adult beverage, good food, and good company. And be sure to say, “Thanks for all that you do,” to our hometown heroine, Tammee Tuttle. The Grit is open again!